Domestic Poverty

January 11, 2019 • Volume 29, Issue 2
Can stricter work mandates reduce the poverty rate?
By Kay Nolan


A decade after the 2007–09 financial crisis and the weak recovery that followed, the U.S. poverty rate has reverted to prerecession levels, but extreme poverty is worsening. Economists attribute this situation to widening income disparity, wage stagnation, a scarcity of affordable housing and the growing prevalence of part-time or temporary employment. Natural disasters and other economic disruptions also worsen the plight of the poor. Liberals and conservatives remain divided on the severity of poverty and how to reduce it. While they agree that government safety net programs have helped lift many Americans out of poverty, conservatives want to increase work mandates with the goal of reducing the number of people receiving government assistance. The Trump administration and many Republicans say requiring the able-bodied poor to meet stricter work requirements in return for assistance is the best way to reduce poverty. But Democrats say most able-bodied poor people already are working and that added work mandates fail to address the root causes of poverty. They call for increased spending on aid and more and better job-training programs.

A man enters a soup kitchen in Worcester, Mass. (Getty Images/Spencer Platt)
A man enters a soup kitchen in Worcester, Mass., where the poverty rate is higher than the national average. Some 40 million Americans live in poverty, according to the most recent census data, and the U.S. poverty rate is 12.3 percent. (Getty Images/Spencer Platt)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Poverty and Homelessness
Jan. 11, 2019  Domestic Poverty
Aug. 04, 2017  Poverty and Homelessness
Jul. 17, 2015  Fighting Urban Poverty
Oct. 10, 2014  Housing the Homeless
Oct. 28, 2011  Child Poverty
Sep. 07, 2007  Domestic Poverty Updated
Jun. 18, 2004  Ending Homelessness
Dec. 22, 2000  Hunger in America
Apr. 07, 2000  Child Poverty
Jan. 26, 1996  Helping the Homeless
Aug. 07, 1992  The Homeless
Mar. 30, 1990  Why Homeless Need More Than Shelter
Sep. 30, 1983  Hunger in America
Oct. 29, 1982  The Homeless: Growing National Problem
Jan. 25, 1967  Status of War on Poverty
Feb. 05, 1964  Persistence of Poverty
Jun. 06, 1956  Pockets of Poverty
Congress Actions
Data and Statistics
Economic Analyses, Forecasts, and Statistics
Economic Crises
Fair Housing and Housing for Special Groups
General Employment and Labor
Low Income and Public Housing
Party Politics
Party Politics
Protest Movements
Social Security
Unemployment and Employment Programs
Welfare and Welfare Reform
Work and the Family